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In a much smaller study at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, seven patients with acute myeloid leukemia were scanned at various times during a week of aggressive chemotherapy. Normally, doctors wait a month after chemo is stopped to see if it worked. But the FLT PET scans offered an answer as soon as a day after treatment started.
"It's always hard to get too excited about a study that just involves seven people," said Dr. Mark Juckett, one of the authors. But "in these few patients, it looked like we could predict those who were going to respond well to chemotherapy and those who weren't."
Other preliminary studies suggest the new PET technology might be useful in gauging treatment for breast and brain cancers as well as lymphoma.
Graham figures there's a good chance FLT PET scans will become routine for assessing therapy in the next 10 years.
"It's a terrible waste of money to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on these patients when it doesn't do any good," he said.
Graham, president-elect of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, has been involved in discussions between the society and drug companies about incorporating FLT PET in their studies of experimental cancer drugs.
The hope is that, over time, FLT PET would prove reliable for giving a faster answer on whether an experimental treatment is working. That would save companies a lot of money, because they could spot ineffective drugs more quickly and not waste further research on them. And the drug company research would produce data to help persuade federal regulators to approve FLT PET for use in tracking therapy.
Dr. Samuel C. Blackman of pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. said he couldn't comment on the specifics of talks with the nuclear medicine group, but he said, "We're definitely enthusiastic about FLT PET" for cancer drug research.
Mike Stevens, the lung cancer patient, has seen his disease held generally stable by continuing chemotherapy since 2005. And along with the scientists, he also likes the idea of an earlier end to the limbo of not knowing whether a new treatment is working.
"It's like having a rope tied around you and you're leaning over a canyon at about a 45-degree angle, and you don't know if someone is going to pull you back in, or let go of it," he said. "If you get that encouragement earlier on that you're doing well ... you've got something to fight for."
On the Net:
Information on PET scans: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?PGpet
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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